Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chauncey DeVega says: My Worst Christmas Gifts Ever or A Whole Lot of Crap Under the Christmas Tree

Let's continue with our Christmas glee--I seem like a bit of a Grinch this week with good reason (damn weather!), but trust me, things are going to take a positive turn in the next few days.

I have had some great Christmases. My parents always sacrificed in order to get me the things I wanted. As an only child I was a bit spoiled and a bit of a brat, but I never went without--and for that I am forever grateful to my parents. This qualifier aside, I have, like kids everywhere, been a victim of toy malpractice. Yes, it hurts. Yes, I have a great deal of pain because of this violation. Now, I am ready to take back my life by sharing my pain.

Behold my (much amended) list of worst gifts ever, in no particular order.

1. Imperial Attack Base/Hoth Base

I am a believer in the power of the Force. I have probably seen the Star Wars trilogies thousands of times. With great expectation and excitement I would watch USA Network's Star Wars marathon. While watching Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of my familiar Star Wars family, I would stage epic battles with my Star Wars toys. You see, I had planned out my Star Wars purchases months in advance with the help of my handy Sears catalog--oh the glee and excitement of the Sear's Wishbook cannot be put into words--and Christmas morning was the culmination of those dreams. But, sometimes these dreams went horribly array and became the stuff of epic disappointment. Hoth. Can I say it again? Hoth, the ice base, the planet where our erstwhile heroes constructed their secret rebel base. Hoth, or as Kenner Toys labeled it, "the Imperial Attack Base" was also one of the worst Star Wars toys ever made. It seems that in their greed the geniuses at Kenner toys convinced themselves that a piece of white plastic with an "exploding" wall should retail for 50 dollars. Oh yeah, it featured a "special" laser cannon that actually "fired." Sure. A piece of white plastic for 50 bucks. 'Nuff said, as my imagination and some white Styrofoam could do far better.

2. Photon Lazer

The idea of chasing your friends around with a laser pistol and shooting them was perfect in its simplicity: it was the maturation of tag, a way to shoot your friends, play soldier, and actually live the future in the present. Remember, this was before the rise in popularity of paintball, and Laser Tag was the closest you could get to the U.S. Army's MILES training system. Thus, its popularity assured among ghetto geeks like myself. It was bliss...in theory. The game was overpriced and rarely worked. There were additional complications. Laser Tag had a competitor named Photon Lazer. The rival product was more sophisticated technologically--and it also had the obligatory Saturday morning cartoon to sell its indispensability to we young ghetto nerds. I thought I was ahead of the curve. "Those dummies had Laser Tag," I thought to myself. "Behind the curve, fools they were ." Well, my friends got the last laugh on me.

You see, Photon Lazer, like Laser Tag, required that you had 1) more than one gun and 2) friends who were willing to play the game. Unfortunately, I had neither. Here is your visual: a young ghetto nerd shooting using his Photon Lazer for target practice in his mom's living room. And no, I never did convince anyone else to buy a Photon Lazer. Sad, so very, very, sad.

3. Cabbage Patch Preemies

No, I didn't play with dolls. I proudly preferred the Smurfs. Regardless of gender, the Cabbage Patch Kids were a fixture of the Reagan 80's with its unrepentant consumerism and capitalism run amok. The Cabbage Patch Kids were evil, foul creatures which drove their parents to all levels of madness. They were American Girl before American Girl, and without the bourgeois, new money faux manners on the part of the parents sent out to obtain these perfect little bits of Americana for their children. Blows would be rained down on rival parents, riots would erupt, and all manner of evil committed in order to obtain these scarce goods. George Costanza's father was indeed right, there has to be another way:

Not afraid to leverage the socio-political anxieties and energies of the moment, the manufacturers of the Cabbage Patch Kids felt no limit to their greed. To that end, in order to broaden their market share they inaugurated a new line of kids, "the Preemies." Yes, little crack babies who were designed with the intention of taking advantage of the fear generated by the crack epidemic and the Drug Wars of the 1980's. Yes, you too could have a crack baby right in your own home! But, one without the emotional and developmental issues a real crack baby may have. Random fact: did you know that crack babies have grown up to be functional adults? And that there is a journal/magazine dedicated to their particular issues and concerns?

The Cabbage Patch mongers were not content to leverage the crack market, their greed demanded that they deploy the allure of Satanism and New Age spirituality to fatten their wallets. Accordingly, the Cabbage Patch Kid doll line was expanded to included the Koosas, freakish, half-man, half-animal creatures, that would wag their tales to bring your children luck:

Hmmmm...sounds mighty suspicious to me. These Koosas seem more like familiars than pets. Random fact number 2: did you know that it was rumored that the Reagan administration and the Department of Defense were secretly behind the odd looking facial features common to the Cabbage Patch Kid dolls? Apparently, the Cabbage Patch Kids were designed to look like human mutants who had been exposed to the fallout from a nuclear war. Brilliant and efficient: use toys to desensitize children to what life would be like in the pale radioactive glow of an inevitable Mad Maxesque future. Cabbage Patch Kids were evil. Cabbage Patch Kids were frightening. Cabbage Patch Kids forever belong on any list of worst ever toys.

4. The Action Max "video game" Console

If there was a Hague Tribunal for crimes against childhood and toy humanity, the Action Max would receive the death penalty because never has the trust of so many children been taken advantage of for such nefarious purposes (you thought I was going to make a pedophile priest joke huh? I am not so crass). The Action Max used skillful marketing and the trusting innocence of young people to convince them that it was the second coming. The commercial pushed all of the right buttons-it was inspired by Top Gun; we could live out our jingoistic fantasies; it had amazing action and lifelike graphics; and one of the Action Max's new titles was based on the movie Blue Thunder. The realism of the graphics should have triggered our caveat emptor impulse, otherwise known as the buyer beware reflex:

If we were were brighter we would have asked ourselves, "How could such graphics be produced on a video game console of this era?" "Why does it look so real?" The answer: the graphics were produced by a videotape. You see, the Action Max was a glorified VCR. You would play a tape which featured "targets," i.e. overexposed sections of the picture that you would shoot with your light gun. Did I forget to tell you that there was a manual counter that you had to reset by hand, and the light gun required you to affix a bright red "sensor" on the television screen? Of course, the sensor would fall off after five minutes of play requiring you to reaffix it. The Action Max was the crown jewel of my Christmas for about thirty minutes. In the days to follow, I would occasionally take it out because I reasoned I must be doing something wrong as no company would produce such a piece of garbage. I was wrong. Action Max is my most craptastic Christmas gift ever.

What are some of your horror stories? Would you like to share so we can have some group therapy? What did Black Peter, or your otherwise well meaning parents, give you for Christmas that to this day leaves a sour taste in your mouth?


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who spent hours poring over the Sears catalog as a child.

Having tightwad parents, the worst gifts were always cheap imitations of what I actually wanted. I craved Legos, but only ever got two sets of something called LocBlocs, which did not have nearly the variety in shapes, sizes, and colors. Worst yet, I desperately wanted Transformers, but all I ever got was fuckin' GoBots.

Then again, one year I did get the Ewok village, which was a whole lot cooler than the Hoth base.

Abdel Shakur said...

I never thought about how sick that Cabbage Patch Premmies doll was.

My thing with Christmas was that all my "action figures" had to be Black, but that limited me to the dudes who always got killed, captured, or talked funny.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@abdel the curse of the black action figures--we were a lost tribe weren't we?

@werner, another thing this generation has lost, trying to explain the sears catalog to the young folk of this generation is like trying to explain rocket science to a wino.

chauncey d

Anonymous said...


Thanks for agreeing with our thoughts on Actionmax! I love your blog!

-Steve from 8bitrocket.com